Every day pushed Josie farther from home and inched her closer to Algonquin Park. The Wednesday before the camping trip she was home with a stomach bug, so she was there when the mail came. There was a letter that said she was assigned to Mr. Franklin’s patrol. She couldn’t believe the letter used the word patrol, as if their tenth-grade ecology class were some sort of military squadron. The same day, her mother came home with a new roll-up sleeping pad that was as comfortable as lying on concrete. The next day, Josie found a small bottle of extra-strength bug spray outside her bedroom door: Musk Oil. It smelled like the name implied, like some pheromone meant to attract muskrats. On Friday, just before her mother drove Josie to school to catch the bus to Algonquin Park, Rita stuffed a poncho and a pair of galoshes into a trash bag and handed it to Josie.
“I checked the forecast. They’re predicting rain,” she said.
Josie dropped the bag and sat on the couch. She reached for the poncho. It was folded into a tidy yellow square. On the front of the package was a picture of a man hiking through rain, a mosquito net draped across his face.
“I don’t feel well.” The woods held clouds of gnats and sharp stinging beetles and that terrible smell of camp smoke and DEET. She’d heard a rumor that on last year’s trip, a girl had tried to suffocate Bevin Barnett with a pillow. The second before Bevin would’ve lost consciousness, she saw God, who gave her the strength to shove the girl away, and that was why she became a Jehovah’s Witness. Josie rested a hand on her stomach.
Rita felt her forehead. “You’re fine. Take some Tums with you just in case.”
“Why do I have to go?”
“So you can get some fresh air, spend time with friends. What’s so bad about that?”
“I like the air in this house.”
Rita sighed and picked up the trash bag. “Go get in the car. I’ll be right there.”
On the way to school, Josie calculated how long the trip would last: one long, smelly bus ride plus one sleepless night plus a bunch of stupid trust games minus one missed shower and one missed dinner with her father. When she broke it up that way, it seemed almost manageable. She’d get through one minute, then the next, until she was back home. When they pulled into the parking lot, though, her stomach roiled.
The diesel exhaust from the bus made her want to retch. She wished they were too late, that the bus had already pulled away, and there was nothing to do but go back home and watch movies all weekend. Bevin wasn’t going on the trip even though she’d failed ecology last year. Since she became a Jehovah’s Witness, she wasn’t allowed to do anything. Her parents were concerned about sleeping arrangements, about use of foul language in the tents. For a second, Josie wished she were a Jehovah’s Witness.
“Mom, I really don’t feel—”
But Rita was busy getting Josie’s luggage from the backseat. “You were the one who signed up for ecology. You didn’t want to take physics, remember? You’ll be fine once you’re on the bus.”
Her mother heaved the duffel into the storage compartment underneath the bus and kissed Josie on the cheek. “Have fun!”
Now that the bus was waiting, home would soon be a distant speck. Josie dragged her feet up the bus steps and turned to take a last look at the parking lot, but a guy whose name she could never remember was already behind her. Perpetually red-faced beneath his buzz cut, he managed to always look angry.
“Move,” he said.
She slid into the first available seat. His backpack swung against her arm.
“This seat’s saved,” the girl next to her said.
She got up and bumped into Stacy, who was stowing a bag in the overhead compartment.
“Bitch,” Stacy muttered.
The bus was starting to move. She mumbled an apology and fell into the seat across the aisle, next to Tiff.
“Who are you sharing a tent with?” Tiff asked.
Surely Tiff didn’t care about Josie’s sleeping arrangements. She was just nosy. Tiff yanked open a bag of sour gummy worms and stretched one’s head with her teeth as far as she could until it snapped. She didn’t offer one to Josie.
“Whoever I’m assigned to, I guess.”
“Assigned? We picked tent-mates last week.”
Josie bit her thumbnail. They must’ve decided on sleeping arrangements while she was sick.
“Maybe you’ll have to sleep in the teachers’ tent. I’d let you in mine, but we already have one too many.”
The bus pulled onto the freeway. The air was stuffy, but she didn’t want to ask Tiff to open the window, much less reach over Tiff and open it herself. Tiff pulled a stack of fashion magazines from her backpack and offered one to Josie. Reading on buses made her queasy, but she took a copy of Seventeen and pretended to flip through it.
When Mr. Franklin clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention, she closed the magazine. He gave a ridiculous little speech: anything they brought to the campsite had to be packed out when they left. He made his way down the aisle. Mrs. Gibbons followed him and nodded after everything he said. Used toilet paper would go in sealed plastic bags. Josie prayed she wouldn’t have to take a shit. The thought of her insides on display in clear plastic made her resolve not to eat for the next day. Mr. Franklin continued: all food had to be garburated. As he said the word garburated, his leg nearly brushed hers. Mr. Franklin would drink the dishwater unless someone else volunteered. Josie felt like she might throw up. Not only did leaving food—even the amount in dishwater—attract critters, it made animals dependent on humans for their food supply. Mr. Franklin turned and walked back to the front of the bus. When he passed Josie, he looked at her and smiled.
The bus rumbled north.
Josie tried to sleep. When she found that she couldn’t, she kept her eyes closed to avoid talking to Tiff, who had out a bottle of green polish and was attempting to paint her toenails.
At the park, Mr. Franklin distributed the tents. After he gave the last group of four their tent, Josie walked up to him. He had one foot up on a picnic bench and was tying his shoe. Across from him, Josie could see the white of his thigh where his shorts crept up. She shifted her backpack to her left shoulder, then coughed a little. He startled.
“Sorry. I wasn’t here when we assigned tent-mates.” Already, she had to pee.
He unzipped the food pack and started reorganizing its contents. “Tiff’s group only has three. You can join them.”
“Tiff said her group was over by one.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“Oh. Does it have to be Tiff’s group? Not that I don’t like them, I just—”
“Find a group, Josie.” He hoisted the pack onto his back. Josie felt her chest tighten.
He looked again at her and squeezed her shoulder. “You’ll be fine.”
The tents were already half built. Her backpack was growing heavy; she’d overpacked. No one would want an extra person with too much gear. It seemed that once a tent was erected, the group was sealed. She approached the group whose tent was still lying flat on the ground.
“You’re stepping on the corner,” Michelle said, fitting together a pole.
Josie looked down and took a step back. “I was just wondering if—”
“Could you take another step back?” Michelle fit the last section of pole together and began threading it through the little pouches on the outside of the tent. The orange fabric kept bunching. “Dammit!”
“You’re busy. Never mind.”
Josie walked a ways into the woods until she found a sufficiently large tree. She yanked down her jeans and squatted. Even though she tried to be careful, a little pee dribbled into the corner of her sneaker.
By the time she returned, most of the tents formed a giant circle around Mr. Franklin’s tent—a multi-room affair that housed all the gear. Mrs. Gibbons had a pup tent outside the circle, near the fire pit. Kids were unrolling sleeping bags and shaking out pillows. Tiff and her friends were playing cards in the grass outside their tent. When Josie stopped in front of them, her stomach churned.
“Sorry to interrupt, but Mr. Franklin said I should join you guys.” She tried to look apologetic. “I know it’ll be squished.”
Tiff set down her cards and looked at Josie. “Are you sure that’s what Mr. Franklin said?”
“Well, yeah. Because you only have three?”
“It’s just that you didn’t help us set up. And we think that’s kind of unfair.”
Stacy and Val looked up, nodded, and returned to their cards. People were wandering around the campsite collecting firewood, and it was hard to tell who belonged in which tent anymore. Mr. Franklin was digging a fire pit and stopped to remove his bandanna and wick the sweat from his forehead.
“Maybe there’s something else I could do. To make up for not helping.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Tiff took in the size of Josie’s duffel. “What did you bring in there?”
“A lot of stuff. For, you know, emergencies. My mom gets worried.”
In truth, her mother had made her pack a first aid kit, water purification tablets, and the entire contents of the medicine cabinet. Her mother had also put Josie’s viola and her own decades-old Campfire Girl songster in her duffel. At the time, it had seemed easier not to argue.
“Well, you’ll have to sleep next to the spider. No one wants to get it.”
“The one we found inside the tent,” Tiff said as though it were obvious.
Josie unzipped the tent, then zipped it behind her. The inside of the tent was hot and musty and smelled like it had been sitting in a damp basement all winter. A patch of duct tape crisscrossed part of the roof; she hoped it wouldn’t rain. She sat in the middle of the tent and scanned her surroundings for the spider, which was much smaller than she’d anticipated. She picked it up between her thumb and forefinger and set it on someone else’s pillow. When she started to sweat, she crawled back outside.
“Did you see the spider?” Stacy asked.
“I don’t think it’s there anymore.”
“You don’t think it’s there? Or you know it’s not there?”
“It’s not. I mean, I didn’t see it.”
Val dealt a new hand of cards. “You know how to play rummy?”
Josie shook her head.
“I’d teach you, but I don’t think there’s enough time before dinner.”
Josie tried to look interested in the game. Maybe she could figure out how to play in case they decided to play again later. She glanced at Tiff’s cards.
Tiff held them to her chest. “Stop looking at my cards.”
“Who cares? It’s not like she’s playing,” Val said.
“I still don’t like anyone looking at my cards.”
“Ignore Tiff. She has PMS.”
It occurred to Josie that used tampons would also have to go in plastic bags. She thanked God her period wasn’t due for another week; she wouldn’t have put it past herself to dig a hole in the woods to bury a tampon rather than let Mr. Franklin see her menstrual blood. Smoke drifted in the breeze, and Josie wandered over to the fire. Mr. Franklin was setting out bags of buns on a picnic table. His broad shoulders were tempered by wire-rimmed glasses. He had shaggy black hair which seemed less like a style and more like he hadn’t bothered to get a haircut.